By REED NELSON
EUGENE, Oregon — Just to clear the air a bit: This was not Alejandro Maldonado’s fault. The kid missed two field goals, sure. But the red-headed stepchild on the other sideline, Jordan Williamson, missed a key try in regulation too. Put it on DAT if you want to, for inexplicably allowing Stanford safety Devon Carrington to catch Marcus Mariota in the first quarter after Mariota sprung the games must exciting run (and what should have been its most decisive, and it was for the wrong reasons, but I’ll get into that in a moment), but not on Maldonado. The Duck could take on some blame for losing his head (literally) while skydiving.
And Chip Kelly deserves some of the blame, but not for complacency, a “foot out the door” approach as some fans were speculating in the midst of a PTSD-fraught walk through the Autzen concourse, or for lack of pragmatism. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
The normally stalwart Oregon coach abandoned the inside running game after about .3 seconds, and by the time he decided to try and reclaim the hash-bound area of the field, it was too late. The Cardinal had come up with a huge 4th down stand inside their own 10 and it was all they needed. Their front seven were already possessed, and no amount of Blur-derived exorcism tactics could change that.
But perhaps the most disappointing thing about Saturday night’s game didn’t occur during regular time (I still contend the Ducks played fairly well during regulation, given the parameters, i.e. seven defensive starters sidelined and Kenjon Barner visibly hurt), but overtime. It was first time Oregon’s heart got tested all season and they failed spectacularly.
They couldn’t even muster a yard. On first and third down, Mariota ran around and got nothing done, and the play call (dive right) on second-and-long was Tedford-esque, to put it mildly. But at that point, they were playing an anti-matter offense, actually sucking yardage away from themselves and allowing their confidence to get sucked away with it.
Mariota’s indecisiveness eventually cost them a yard and a shot at the win. And then people were actually surprised that Maldonado missed a 43-yard field goal. The kid hasn’t put in a 40-yard field goal in regulation in his entire career. Oh yeah, it would totally make sense that this trend would reverse itself in the most pressure packed situation that he has ever encountered.
And by the way — last point, for now — the Ducks defense deserves a gold star; Erick Dargan, Brian Jackson, Kiko Alonso and Ifo Ekrpe-Olomu in particular. Dargan and IEO forced three huge turnovers between them (IEO’s hat-on-ball forced fumbles were as textbook as they come). And then, when it truly mattered most, they managed to hold Stanford to just a handful of yards in overtime. When they absolutely had to, Oregon’s defense came up huge. Somehow Jordan Williamson — perhaps the only kicker in America with a more questionable crunch-time pedigree than our boy Alejandro — piped a 40-yarder to win it. What can you do if you’re the Oregon D.
No more Natty. I hate the SEC. At least Arizona sounds nice, it’s an opportunity to get nostalgic. Ultra nostalgic.